Objectivity v Bias

Recently, I’ve thought a lot about  Courtney Stoker’s  recent post about attempting to avoid teaching her students to look for “objectivity” in writing. Objectivity, I agree with Courtney, is a mirage, a fallacy that should be removed from classroom discussion. Instead of teaching my students to be objective or look for objectivity in research, I try to teach them to look for biased arguments instead, whether their own or an authors.

When looking for bias, I ask them to consider a few simple concerns. Does an author present themself as well-informed about an issue? More importantly, something I focus on a lot, do they consider alternative “sides” to the issue at hand? Do they present other arguments against their viewpoint and then defend their view against them? If not, there is a good chance the writer’s argument will have flaws or insufficient. I don’t really care if a writer comes into an article without a shred of objectivity, as long as they consider the issue in a meaningful way and consider different perspectives on it.

In their own writing, students often come to me asking if “they can have an opinion” in their papers. I tell them, YES, of course they can, but they need to not just say “I believe _____.” Have a viewpoint, but also declare that viewpoint proudly, consider other viewpoints, defend your viewpoint against them using evidence from other sources and your own argument. This seems to work for most of my students.